Behind The Devil's Back

Written by: TL on 24/10/2015 13:40:07

It is a good question, whether Charlie Simpson will ever live down his boyband past. His claim to fame as a member of Busted figures as the most likely barrier to have persistently made music fans skeptical of checking out both his solo work and his efforts fronting the post-hardcore/alt-rock group Fightstar. And that's despite the fact that pretty much everything Simpson and the other Fightstar members have touched has turned to gold ever since they debuted on the 05 EP "They Liked You Better When You Were Dead". With three albums full of both melody and heaviness, of Muse-ish piano, orchestral synths and choirs, and of references to both cinema and anime (Blade Runner and Neon Genesis, specifically), Fightstar's own material has been impressive. Yet even their break since 2010 hasn't been too hard on fans, as Simpson's two solo records cast him favourably as a catchier City And Colour, while guitarist Alex Westaway and Dan Haigh also impressed with the recent debut from their electronic dreamwave project Gunship.

For those in the know then, expectations for this year's comeback album "Behind The Devil's Back" have been pretty high, yet the band quickly defused most concerns by gradually slipping songs ahead of the release, proving that the new album would indeed be a perfect amalgamation of the band's various influences. Not that you don't get exactly that impression if you simply put the album on and listen to opener "Sharp Tongue". You instantly get introduced to a heavy metal riff barrage backed by an eerie ambiance, leading into a tranquil melodious part where Simpson's characteristically hazy clean singing builds up to a post-rock pre-chorus. This is followed by an anthemic refrain and a bloodcurdling scream, before the heavy riff returns to bridge the gap over to the second verse. Finally, the cinematic electronics and the battering guitar chords are given free reigns in the contrast part before the last chorus.

Such a song is Fightstar in a nutshell, mixing musical oil and water into futuristic soundscapes that are equal parts dreamy and punchy. Deftones reign supreme among the band's influences, and you can hear this more clearly than ever in the title track "Behind The Devil's Back", which thrives by intelligently winding eerie melody around a chunky, nu-metallic riff, while doubling Simpson's cleans in the chorus, before a scream from him leads into a bridge where abrasive pummelings stab through Westaway's ethereal singing and keyboard work. In general the band's liking for metal, including professed influences like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, is more overt than ever - just listen to the gravelly half of the verse in "The Blackest Of Birds". Yet at the same time, their penchant for sweeping cinematic soundscapes is still entirely intact as a soaring melodic counterpart to each chug-tastic metal infusion.

In that sense, Fightstar are true to form, but there's still a new nuance to the album, primarily in how the "retrotronica" of Gunship has been snuck in and implemented with impressive elegance, as is particularly audible in "Overdrive" and "Murder All Over". The former sees the band going for full 80's exploitation, with synths pulsing, swooning and careening into the guitars all over the song, culminating in a proggy bridge that caps off a song, which is otherwise unusually sunny sounding for the band. "Murder All Over" though, is the true dark horse track of the record, having been passed over as a single choice, yet leaving you wishing it had been elaborated over more than its short but sweet length of 3 minutes and 22 seconds. The combination of riff and synth in the instrumental pre-chorus here is frankly staggering, while Simpson's and Westaway's harmonizing is to die for on the protective lyrical hook "Sleep inside my shadow, and I will keep you safe".

Here we also see that Fightstar's general disillusionment with modern society finds a more paternal direction, as songs like "Murder All Over" and "Sharp Tongue" seem concerned with safeguarding your loved ones and preparing them to be strong and positive forces in the future. Still it's not the only motif, as "Animal" for instance struggles with inner, darker impulses via lycanthropic metaphors, while "Sink With The Snakes" rages against celebrity culture - coincidentally delivering some badass, air-guitar-worthy, almost Bring Me The Horizon-ish guitar work along the way.

Even zooming out, though, it's hard to find an angle wide enough to keep all these aspects in frame, which is a credit to Fightstar, who have once more created an album which is as diverse and layered as it is immediately impactful. Admittedly, a few of the songs, mainly "More Human Than Human", "Titan" and "Dive", do not quite hold up to the rest, neither in terms of catchy hooks or dynamic composition. But that still leaves you with seven other songs, all of which belong in the bracket of tracks you are likely to return to frequently, simply for their individual merits, let alone how well they sound strung together in the album's sequence. And that marks yet another demonstration of power for the band, who keep bringing added nuances to an already eclectic soundscape, and at worst only leaves you wishing occasionally, that they had fleshed out their brilliant ideas even than is the case on a fairly tightly wound album.

Lingering boyband-reputation or not then, there are many more famous bands that should wish they made as simultaneously catchy and wholesome music as Simpson and the rest of Fightstar have been making, both in the past and now also on "Behind The Devil's Back".

Download: Murder All Over, Behind The Devil's Back, Sink With The Snakes
For The Fans Of: Deftones, 30 Seconds To Mars, Thrice, Coheed And Cambria

Release date 16.10.2015

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